Spiritual Exercises – Pierre Hadot

In his book “Philosophy as a Way of Life” Pierre Hadot writes on what he calls “spiritual exercises” which lead to a transformation or metamorphosis of our life. (82)  Hadot blocks these spiritual exercises into four different stages or categories in order to move to a change in the way we do philosophy, a way that affects the way we think and act in the world.  To sum it up in one word we could call this askesis.  The four stages of the spiritual exercises are: learning to live, learning to dialogue, learning to die and lastly learning to read.

Learning to Live

Hadot mentions the Stoics and the way they “did” philosophy, by engaging the whole of existence by living a certain lifestyle and have a concrete attitude that determines their lifestyle.  The emphasis here is switching our thinking from “human” terms to more of a “natural” way of thinking and acting, this is to be able to see all universal nature in your field of vision.  This comes about by way of prosoche or attention. (84)  In order to properly learn how to live we must pay attention to the present moment and if we pay attention to the present moment this attention “allows us to respond immediately to events.” (85) If we can attain this attention to some degree then it should lead to meditation which “allows us to be ready at the moment when an unexpected circumstance occurs.” (85) All of this eventually leads us to a going into the “beyond” or a cosmos in which sometimes we control and at others do not control.  These exercises are a form of healing our souls and order the desires to what is more important.

Learning to Dialogue

Meditation and attention take us into the universal aspect of nature which means that other human beings will be around us and in contact with us, but how do we talk to them? Can we talk to them while in the midst of our spiritual exercises? Yes to both, and the way that is is that we, through meditation we are constantly talking to ourselves and in order to get the universal nature we must go out and communicate our thoughts with others and receive their thoughts.  In this way we look to Socrates as our model and the communal nature of his dialogues of which Plato writes about.  The purpose of this dialogue is “to let ourselves be changed, in our point of view, attitudes, and convictions.” (90)  Hadot speaks of a dialectic, the goal of the dialectic is to show in a skilled way the error of the interlocutor’s way and bring him onto the right path. (92)  All of this is ordered to the Good and the True.

Learning to Die

Hadot haunts the reader with this quote on this section of the text “there is a mysterious connection between language and death” and following this he also writes that “he who remains faithful to the Logos risks losing his life.” (93)  Philosophers as stated above are searching for the True and the Good and in the case of Socrates (our model) he chose the Good over his own existence, and in that respect the philosopher is training for death. This death is not always a physical death like Socrates but really and truly a death to our own individuality and passions that lead us astray in the search for the Good and the True.  In this death though comes freedom according to the Stoic and not freedom in the sense of American freedom but in the truest sense of freedom of thought and action and the fear being taken away because of one’s devotion to the True and Beautiful.  So we as philosophers must go to contemplation of the True and the Good for this is what brings us happiness and not a contemplation to attain facts and concepts but to make the teachings a part of our nature and life. (100)  The view of the person is that of a statue that needs to be constantly polished and chipped away at.

Learning How to Read

Now that philosophy is laid out as a way of life as the Stoics did many years ago, now the final step is to look at what has occurred in the philosophical field between the time the Stoics were walking around Greece to now.  To learn how to read means we must learn that “every written work is a monologue, the philosophical work is always implicitly a dialogue.” (105) Once we view every philosophical writing as a dialogue then we start to live, dialogue and die, thus making philosophy a way of life, a life geared towards the True and the Good, free from passions, desires, fears, free to be united to nature.


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